Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
London has gone to Hell. The city is a decayed shell of its former self; it’s been turned into a massive, heavily polluted industrial wasteland. The Thames has become a graying cesspool, and the subway systems are slowly rotting underground. Aside from a handful of meager restaurants and hotels, most of the businesses have gone bankrupt. The once-bustling streets have been nearly abandoned. There are rumors of people being kidnapped. The few citizens that remain are too afraid to go outside. Scotland Yard – and anything resembling law enforcement or academics, for that matter – has long been wiped out. The Mafia have taken charge, corrupting every level of what passes for society and threatening death to anyone who oppose them. This grand, sickening spectacle of greed and suffering is ruled by one man: Professor Herschel Layton.
At least, that’s how London will end up. After being led to a time machine during an investigation, Professor Layton and his child apprentice, Luke are thrown into a dystopian version of the city ten years into the future. It’s up to them to clear Layton’s name and find out how everything went so wrong. Despite a slight lull in the middle, the mystery is surprisingly well-paced. Aside from the main plot, the game spends plenty of time developing Layton and Luke’s characters (as well as an ensemble of returning faces) via their interactions and flashbacks. We get a glimpse of what Layton was like before he became a professor, including his romance with a woman named Claire, the significance of his iconic top hat, and his personal code of being a proper gentleman. Meanwhile, Luke has gotten old enough to realize that, regardless of his wishes, he can’t stay with Layton forever. The various plot lines steadily intertwine, culminating in one of the most awesome and heartbreaking endings in recent memory. The theme of cherishing the past and embracing the future makes for a poignant finish to the series’ first trilogy.
But if you’re not in it for the story, you’ll still find that The Unwound Future retains everything that made its predecessors so great. As you wander through the future London, you’ll have to gain information by talking with people or investigating different places. Everything is done with the stylus; you tap on objects to interact with them, and press on-screen arrows to move to the next area. Exploring is crucial to your progression; you won’t be able to trigger some important clue or cutscene until you’ve talked to the right person or acquired the correct item. It’s made less tedious by the structure of the setting itself; important locations are easy to find, and the decrepit subway system makes backtracking a trivial matter. Obsessively searching the screens has its benefits, too; anything from a billboard to a wall decoration might uncover something useful.
More often than not, you’ll find a puzzle. Since the city is ruled by a diabolical version of Professor Layton, it’s not surprising that everything, from the locks on the hideout doors to the lowliest Mafia goons, will force you to solve a riddle before moving on. There are nearly 170 puzzles, but you’ll only need to complete just over a hundred of them to beat the game. While the sheer amount of questions is staggering, it’s their variety that make them impressive. You’ll have to solve all kinds of riddles, like discovering patterns in a seemingly random list, selecting a person based on a set of unrelated statements, mapping out labyrinths of arrows and symbols, uncovering proximity mines a la Picross, and assembling machines. If you blindly guess the answers, it won’t take long for the game to eat you alive. If you’re really stuck, you can spend hint coins (currency you can acquire via exploring) to unlock clues to a given question. Oh sure, you could always do it the cheap way by constantly saving and restarting, but it’ll get old quickly. Besides, there’s nothing more satisfying than solving a puzzle on your own.
Regardless of how you approach the puzzles, you’ll want to get them right the first time. If you make a mistake, you won’t earn as many Picarat bonus points when you finally get the correct answer. While it might not seem significant to the story, it’ll come back with a vengeance when you try to unlock the game’s other features. Many of the extras require you to obsessively scour each screen for a hidden puzzle, or speak with every last NPC to get something. The results pay off, though. You’ll eventually activate Layton’s Challenges, which offer an assortment of truly hardcore riddles. The same goes for the Weekly Puzzles, which can be downloaded over WiFi. That’s aside from the usual assortment of character profiles, art, cutscenes, and music tracks. Veterans of The Diabolical Box will uncover something special as well. But if need something a bit lighter, you can always indulge in the two mini-games you’ll acquire during the main playthrough. The first involves you guiding a car around an obstacle course by placing directional tiles to help it turn, while the other has you creating makeshift platforms to help a trained parrot make deliveries. They’re not as challenging or deep as the other stuff, but they offer as a nice distraction when you’re trying to complete everything.
It’s the cutscenes that’ll keep you hooked, though. Unwound Future is crammed with them, much moreso than the previous games. We get to see more chemistry and interaction between characters, and the story seems more lively, fleshed out, and faster-paced. We finally get a look at Layton’s job at a university, as well as brief visits to Scotland Yard and other iconic areas. The last ten minutes are some of the best-looking stuff in the series, if not on the DS itself. It was almost overdone, actually; there are a few moments that would have worked better as the normal, text-based dialogue. There’s a ton of information and lines to read, but it rarely feels monotonous. None of the returning characters’ designs have changed; even the Layton and Luke’s puzzle-solving animations have been unaltered. The voice acting is not only superb, but there’s far more of it than before. That goes for the music, too. Between the dramatic live version of the main theme, the catchy clock-chiming of future London, and the amazing ending instrumentals, the soundtrack is arguably the best in the series. Given the excellence of the other games, that’s saying something.
The Unwound Future is a fitting end to this first Professor Layton trilogy. Even if it doesn’t finish the series, it resolves some of the main plot lines. It gives its characters greater depth, offering better insight into the heroes and their motivations. Layton, Luke, and the rest of the ensemble cast are back and better than ever. The sheer amount and variety of riddles ensures that you’ll be kept busy for hours. The steady pacing, cleverly-designed puzzles, and engaging storytelling keep things interesting. Not to mention all the mini-games, bonus riddles, artwork, and other unlockables you’ll eventually uncover. With so many animated cut scenes, voiced dialogue, and an incredible soundtrack, you’ll have a hard time finding another DS game with such a quality presentation. Above all else, it demonstrates its main theme: it lets gamers reminisce about where the series has gone, but reminds them to look forward to where it’s going. If The Unwound Future is any indication, this is just the beginning.